The Amazing Aussie Adventure: One year on in Perth

Aussie Adventure, 1 year on

I’ve been living in this great Southern land for more than a year now, and the tipping point for what feels like a dream has been reached.

With any big change the new ‘reality’ feels completely unreal — this is particularly true if you leave a dark, cold and rainy London and find yourself in sunny Perth.

However, there comes a point where the balance shifts and it’s now what was there before that doesn’t seem quite real any more.

This Aussie adventure of mine is about the lifestyle more than anything. Sure, living in a city in Australia isn’t so very different to living in a city in England — but then it’s the small things that make the difference.

Fish & chips and the sunset

Small things like eating fish and chips at Scarborough beach and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean — or just getting out of work promptly on a scorching hot day to join the rest of the population swimming in the ocean to cool off.

My Home is Your Home by Ken UnsworthOn any particular day, you will find people swimming in the ocean and playing games on the beach until it gets dark.

Or the lifestyle is things like the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition started at Cottesloe beach, and though it’s spread east to Bondi beach and internationally to Denmark, it feels very WA — the setting sun adding an extra element to the art works.

Not just beach…

The lifestyle is not all about the beach life, either.

With friends, we meet up each month for a BBQ in a different spot in Perth — from Leighton beach, to the river foreshore, to Banks Reserve, and Kings Park: going for a picnic every month is something I couldn’t dream of doing in the UK. Unless you didn’t mind having your picnic inside the car or in the rain. And most people in the UK have done both of those things on more than one occasion.

the PinnaclesA short drive out of the city takes you to national parks where you can see koalas (they’re not native to WA, it should be noted, so don’t expect to just see them in all parks) and kangaroos.

You don’t even have to travel to see kangaroos — at dusk they will be hopping all over your nearest oval. I hope that the small thrill of seeing koalas and kangaroos doesn’t get ever old — except for the kangaroos that jump into the road when you’re driving.

Busselton Jetty, WAA longer drive north of Perth will take you to the Pinnacles, but even when you’re standing on a hill in the desert and admiring the rock formations, you can still see the sun glinting off waves not far away.

Driving south from Perth takes you through forest and down to Busselton and its famous jetty, and on to the vineyards of Margaret River — where people will go for a week or a weekend and decide to never leave.

Shorts and thongs

I still stand out as a stranger, here. Although I find myself unintentionally saying words like “thongs” when I mean “flip flops”, and greeting friends with “Hazzitgawn?”, other times I am very conscious of how posh and English I sound when I ask “Please may I have…” instead of the more Aussie “Can I grab…” and being caught off guard when someone asks me “How are you travelling?” when they mean “How are you?”scarborough beach sunset

Summer is waning in Perth and it reminds me of the best times of year in England, when it’s warm and fine. Although I know that winter is on its way and our house has no heating and very little insulation, it isn’t like there will be wintry things like ice, frost or snow in Perth.

Life here has tipped over so that now 30-something years in England now seem like the part that’s unreal.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: It’s the Little Differences

Festival of Christmas in Perth

In the classic Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction, the characters played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson discuss what Europe is like compared to the USA.

Travolta’s character Vincent Vega puts it best when he says “You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences.” That’s how the Amazing Aussie Adventure feels: the biggest things of all are the little differences.

For a country that speaks English as a first language and drives on the left-hand side of the road, you’d be surprised at the little differences in Australia.

The Language

Yes, they speak English here. And it’s not even like it’s “American” English, for all intents and purposes it’s the same English that I know. Things like realise and fantasise are still spelled with an “S”, and as a professional copywriter, I go around correct American English spellings on my company’s website. We’re an Australian company and our brand should reflect this. But then other things trip you up.

Like pants, for example.

As with the North American continent, pants here are not your underwear. If someone mentions wearing “dress pants” they do not mean the occasion is so formal it requires special underwear, but just smart trousers. Pants are what we, in the south of England at least, call trousers. I know the English makes no sense, since surely underpants go under your pants, but that’s just how it is. Neither is right and neither is wrong, but it can be confusing if you see a pub’s dress code stating that pants must be worn.

Which brings me to another confusion: thongs. If a pub has a dress code, and it mentions pants, it only follows that it would also mention no thongs allowed. As an Englishman, I nod my head to this and think it makes sense — pants yes, thongs no. Nobody wants to see your g-string. But thongs are what the rest of the world calls flip-flops. Or if you want to compromise, sandals. If a friend mentions they wear thongs in the shower, they’re talking about their footwear, not their choice of shower apparel.

Even when you logically know these things you can still get tripped up.

Aussie Slang

British kids raised on a TV diet of Neighbours and Home and Away are more familiar with Aussie slang than maybe other nations around the world. Apparently, Aussie TV soaps are also responsible for the proliferation of “up-speak”, but that’s a different conversation for another day. But when someone calls you a flaming drongo or a great galah, you are already on the ball. Except you’ll almost never hear someone talk like that outside of the country.

But there’s also a world of Aussie slang that you might not know, from having roos loose in the top paddock to being mad as a cut snake. Before moving to Australia, it’s a good idea to read some Aussie literature to get up to speed. You can buy books of Aussie slang, though trying to drop things like “I hope your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny door down” into everyday conversation is as difficult as using the phrase “le singe est sur le branche” when in Paris (there’s not a lot of jungle in France).

You’re likely to also be confused by being asked how you are going, especially if you’re not travelling anywhere at the time. It’s just saying “How are you?” and probably means something similar to “How are you going on your journey through life/the day/the universe”. One of the things that delighted me most early in my days in Australia were the words “dobber” (what you might call a snitch or a grass, but in a much more schoolboyish way, than a criminal informant sort) and the phrase “made you look you dirty chook.” Other phrases you’re likely to hear in normal conversation include “winner winner chicken dinner.”

Australian Politics

You’ll be glad to know that Aussie politics is just as bipartisan as it is in the UK or the USA. That’s about all I understand of it. Oh, and the Liberal Party are not what anyone else in the world would ever describe as “Liberal”.

The one and only election day I’ve been to here was a big disappointment: I was promised a sausage sizzle and a cake stall, and there was neither. Both of those things probably also need explaining another time. Voting is also compulsory here: not voting means a fine, and possible jail time if you don’t pay.

Strangely, it doesn’t seem to drastically increase voter turnout.

Seasons

Obviously, in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are reversed, and for a while that confuses you, until you go through a full cycle of seasons and learn to disconnect the month from the season. What you don’t get used to is the confusion between things like Easter and Christmas and the seasons. It feels plain weird to have Christmas in the height of summer, and to see inflatable Santa wearing shorts and holding a surfboard — but then everything else is still branded for the Northern hemisphere version of Christmas. Evergreen trees decorated with tinsel and fake snow, cards have images of snowmen and robins. Santa still comes on a sleigh, pulled by reindeer! There’s “Australian” versions of songs like Jingle Bells and the 12 Days of Christmas, and even that song by Rolf Harris that we won’t listen to any more — but they’re not really official songs, not like the traditional carols.

Easter, too, is “branded” for Spring — even though it officially falls in Autumn, so it’s not really all about rebirth and new life and all the traditional themes of abundance. Except that the seasons get even weirder: it’s in Autumn and Winter that it rains and things like your lawn that died in the summer comes back to life.

Sometimes it’s the little differences you didn’t even expect. When something you know from home looks different or tastes different to what you’re used to, or when you can’t find something in the supermarket and you realise you don’t even know what it would be called here.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Surfing Dude

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Surfing Dude


surfing WA

Image: allianceabroad.com

One of the things I wanted to take up when I came to Australia was learn to surf.

It seemed like a simple enough task — I’d surfed once or twice in the past and had managed to get to my feet. I figured some dedicated lessons would refresh my memory and after a short course I’d be ready to buy my own surfboard and start hitting the surf at weekends.

My first surf lesson in Australia, a wave hit me the wrong way and I wrenched my shoulder. These things happen, I didn’t think so much of it at the time. Except it carried on hurting throughout the day, in a way a pulled muscle doesn’t.

I cancelled my following day’s lesson to avoid making it any worse, but by the Monday morning although it wasn’t any better I didn’t want to miss another day’s lesson (they’re non-refundable) so got through it with pain killers.

My ideas of buying my own surfboard were seeming more far-fetched: I wasn’t getting any better at surfing (that is, I still couldn’t stand on the board without falling off) but it was only my second lesson…

A few days later, with my shoulder still hurting, I saw a doctor. I described the pain, how it happened, and demonstrated the limited range of movement. The doctor told me it was a torn shoulder rotator cuff, and referred me for an ultrasound.

An ultrasound and an x-ray later confirmed a partial tear, but luckily not a bone chip that the ultrasound suggested.

It was more than six weeks before I was able to surf again, and complete the surf lesson course. By this time, summer had faded in Western Australia but sunny mornings spent in the surf, mostly falling off, were time well spent.

And no, I never did buy that surfboard, or really ever manage to learn to surf properly.

Although I did get a certificate.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Beach life

Greens Pool, Western Australia

I wrote a few weeks ago about swimming outdoors at Serpentine Falls, and how it was the only time I’ve been wild swimming other than at Highgate Ponds in London.

Swimming is something I enjoy a lot. I like the meditative calm of just pushing through the water, thinking quietly, and the variety of being able to pick up the pace if I feel the need: and being non-impact, it’s much better suited to me than running.

Naturally, on this amazing Aussie adventure of mine I have embraced with open arms the many opportunities for swimming in the ocean.

Admittedly, I am still a little nervous venturing into the ocean in the knowledge that there’s so many things that can kill you. This is not helped by the government-fuelled hysteria over sharks. This isn’t a place for a full-scale rant about the WA shark cull, but the fact is that sharks still kill fewer people than careless drivers. Sharks are an easy target, however, and have been a figure of fear ever since Jaws.

Green’s Pool

My first opportunity to get into the ocean in Australia was at Greens Pool, in William Bay National Park. The “pool” has almost completely calm waters because the bay is sheltered from the waves of the Great Southern Ocean by large, round boulders. When I was told we were going to Greens Pool I didn’t immediately make the connection that this “pool” was the ocean: in the UK if you told me we were going to visit a pool, I’d just presume it was a particularly good swimming pool. In Australia, if you’re going swimming anywhere it’s safe to presume it will be outside.

Greens Pool was a great way to get in the ocean in Australia, with a gradual slope into clear waters and no waves. It’s also fairly typical of beaches on the Southern ocean, because the water is freezing cold. Being English, I’m not unused to cold water, although I can’t remember the last time I went in the ocean in the UK without a wetsuit (because the last few times were surf-related).

Albany, WA

Middleton beach, Albany, WAI’ve been spending a lot of time in Albany, on the southern coast of WA, an area famous for its whales.

There’s also a choice of beaches, and on a warm afternoon, one of the last of the summer, we went swimming at Middleton beach. The last time I came to Middleton Beach it was October, and a humpback whale was merrily splashing in the water a short distance off the beach. This time, there were no whales, and although it was not quite as cold as Greens Pool, and even though it’s protected by King George Sound, it was noticeably cold.

The beach has a floating pontoon in the summer months — I guess for jumping and diving — and we made use of it for that. What the two beaches had in common were their calm waters, ideal for leisurely swimming, and hot days combined with cold waters.

Perth’s beaches

Recently, I visited two Perth beaches: Cottesloe and Scarborough, though I only swam at the latter of the two. Cottesloe is Perth’s most popular beach, but despite temperatures in the high 30s on Friday, by Saturday they had dropped 10 degrees — the multitude of visitors to the beach were there for Sculpture by the Sea.

A short drive along the coast from Cottesloe is Scarborough beach. Unlike Middleton beach and Greens Pool in the south of WA that are on the Southern ocean, Perth’s beaches are Indian ocean — bringing with it warmer waters.

Scarborough is a popular surfing beach, and it was easy to see why on this particular day.

Scarborough beach, Perth

Scarborough is a long, beautiful beach, with sand banks and rolling waves. With a strong swell there was less swimming to be done, and more diving into the waves, and avoiding being knocked off your feet.

I’ll be returning to Scarborough beach in the near future for several days of surfing lessons: watch this space.

Sculpture by the Sea: Cottesloe beach

Red Centre, by Carl Billingsley

Red Centre, by Carl Billingsley: Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe beachThis weekend the Amazing Aussie Adventure continued as I got the opportunity to check out the opening of Sculpture by the Sea on Cottesloe beach.

Cottesloe is a tremendously popular beach in Perth, but I’d never visited it properly before — then again, I’d never been to Perth at this time of year before, either, and visiting at the end of summer makes a big difference.

Making the beach even more attractive was a range of sculptures by more than 70 artists — local artists and artists from WA were exhibited alongside international artists, making the beach and surrounds into one big modern art gallery.

“Ocean Cathedral” by Debbie Harding

Ocean Cathedral

Among the sculptures were “Ocean Cathedral” by Debbie Harding, a cathedral window made out of bamboo with a view of the ocean, “Wave 1” by Annette Thas a wave made out of plastic Barbie dolls, and “Red Center” by Carl Billingsley, a veritable sea of red and yellow survey flags, that reminded me, in my exceedingly amateur opinion, of some of Van Gogh’s paintings.

“150 Surfboard Graveyard” by Chris Anderson: Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe beach

150 Surfboard Graveyard

Other sculptures had an ecological message: including “150 Surfboard Graveyard” by Chris Anderson, a “graveyard” of broken parts of surfboard, all sticking out of the sand, a life size rhinoceros knitted entirely out of black plastic bags by Mikaela Castledine, and a fish tank of “Things You Might Find On Your Trip to the Beach” (by Marina DeBris) — entirely consisting of rubbish the artist finds washed up on the beach.

There are too many sculptures and installations to list here — but if you like art, want something to talk about and think about, the exhibition is running until the end of March. I can highly recommend it.

For more photos of Sculpture by the Sea, check out my Tumblr here and check out the Sculpture by the Sea official Twitter account

The first days in Australia: Perth zoo

Perth zoo: tree kangarooAs a belated birthday outing, we went to Perth zoo on the Friday after I arrived. Despite sleeping very little on the flight from London to Singapore earlier in the week, I’d been fortunate that I hadn’t too much difficulty adjusting to the time difference (Perth is 8 hours ahead of GMT).

Jetlagged

On a briefly unrelated side note, whenever I have a time change like this and find myself suddenly wide awake at 5 or 6am, I often think about trying to train myself to stay awake at that time permanently. After all, it would add several more productive hours to my days. As you’d probably expect, I always decide I like sleep too much, and get over the inconveniently early wakefulness without too much effort.

At this point in the adventure, I felt like I’d lost a day and a half when I left London on Monday morning and arrived in Perth on Tuesday afternoon. The feeling of things not being quite real was exacerbated by feeling a little adrift in the week. Just the same, I had largely overcome my mid-afternoon slump by the end of the week. Instead, what I had left behind felt more like a dream than the dusty red earth that was now home.

Beware: Cassawaries

Like with Serpentine National Park, going to Perth zoo on a week day in school time meant that it was reasonably quiet — with a surprising number of Scottish visitors. One of the things I noticed about Perth zoo was how spacious it felt — it had clearly been designed with a lot of thought to shade and wide open spaces.

You might think that one zoo is a lot like the next, but now that I think of it despite having visited various zoos and safari/wildlife parks at home, this was the first zoo I’d been to outside of the UK. I guess with all the travelling over the last few years, zoos were always further down the list than things like exploring the city.

Sure, Perth has its giraffes and lions and cheetahs and rhinos [fun fact: despite their intimidating appearance, rhinos are regarded by their keepers as overgrown dogs: they’re gentle creatures that like attention and a good scratch behind the ear] but the next realisation after the sense of space and shade in Perth zoo was the variety of Australian animals that I’d not experienced before.

There were the prehistoric and vicious-looking Cassawaries, the Quokkas who always look delighted about something, endangered Bilbys — and a veritable galaxy of small Australian marsupials. One of my favourite animals was the tree kangaroo, a native of Papua New Guinea, and an interesting-looking creature I’d not so much as heard of before. There were also the more familiar dingos, koalas, wallabies and a walkabout section through a wooded area where kangaroos would hop happily across the path in front of you. And despite having seen crocodiles in zoos and alligators both wild and in captivity, I wasn’t expecting a crocodile the size of the specimen in Perth zoo.

Orangutan - mother and baby at Perth zoo
Photo courtesy of Perth zoo: http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/news/gallery/

Perth zoo is a fantastic place for conservation, and learning. I learned a lot about the zoo’s conservation projects in the wild, including its fantastic native breeding program, and I was educated on topics such as the importance of dingos to the ecosystem. Once regarded as a pest, it’s been found more recently that in areas where dingos are reintroduced, the feral invasive species like cats, rabbits and foxes all decline, and the native plants and marsupials recover.

At risk of sounding like a tourist guide book, Perth zoo is a great place to visit. Even if it is more conventional than a place like Serpentine National Park — it’s a place to discover animals you’ve never seen or heard of before, but also learn about conservation efforts in Australia, and around the world.

The Australian adventure begins

the Australian adventure beginsI left London on a typically cold and rainy day in February, one week ago today. It’s surprising how when you’re moving to another country you can fit all the clothes you own into just a few bags — once you have decided to throw out all of those items that don’t fit, admitting that they probably won’t fit again any time soon.

Flying long-haul in Economy Class can be tough, but I recommend paying the small extra surplus on Singapore Airlines for a seat in the emergency exit row. OK, so you don’t get a window — which is usually my favourite place to sit — but it is more than made up for by the fact that you can stretch your legs so far, and that you can just stand up by your seat if you so desire. The only drawback is that because there is so much space in front of you some people may choose to stand in front of your seat while they wait to use the bathroom.

We descended into Singapore’s Changi airport, after nearly 13 hours in the air, just as the sun was rising. From the plane window behind me I saw dots of light below become boats, and I wondered what lives the people on board were leading, and what they were thinking and feeling at the start of their day on Tuesday.

My stop in Singapore was only two hours — and from bad experiences in the past in airports trying to clear customs and find boarding gates, I wouldn’t want any less than that. Soon, I was in the air again — and with my cherished window seat.

From the air, I was struck by the colours of Australia. The land was mostly brown or gold, and the trees were a very dark green. Occasionally, the land took an alien look around mine sites. It took me a short while to realise that where the land was golden coloured or brown this wasn’t abnormal: this was Australia, in the summer.

Clearing customs and immigration was surprisingly easy: I printed the details of my visa and my visa grant notice, in case they were needed, but since my visa was entirely electronic I wasn’t even asked about it.

And then there I was (after a quick stop in the airport duty free shop): a permanent resident in Australia.